One week ago at MozFest, we began the process of rethinking and updating the Open Definition for today’s challenges and contexts

The Open Definition was a collaborative process led by the Open Knowledge Foundation more than a decade ago that created a consensus among experts by defining openness in relation to data and content. As our CEO Renata Ávila articulates in more detail, the macro intention of this project is to create a bridge between old definitions and new discourses to keep the open ecosystem alive and current. 

The MozFest workshop’s title was “Towards a more diverse and inclusive Open Definition”, a true 101 session designed with a flexible structure to foster listening and learning. Having been the enablers of Open Definition in the past, and being its “caretakers” today, we have an insight that we need to act to bring debates around openness back to new generations and encourage more people to participate by bringing their values, languages, cultures and perspectives. The good reception and enthusiastic repercussions that have already begun make us think we are on the right track.

With a multilingual approach and dividing ourselves into rooms per language (so discussions could happen in native language) we asked for some igniting questions like:

  • What is missing in the current version?
  • What is the current use of Open Definition?
  • What needs to be kept no matter what?
  • Can we avoid the misuse and abuse of the word “open”?
  • How do we include equity and inclusivity within the definition?
  • What governance model should we develop? Should we keep the Open Definition Council? If so, how? 
  • What’s your opinion on what’s wrong? Think besides licences.

The collective discussion raised some questions and served to modulate the tone of the conversation for the coming months.

Key Takeaways

  • Diversity – It was recognised that the original Open Definition process was mostly carried out by people with a fairly high-level profile, but little diversified
  • Governance – It is necessary to design a new governance model for the Open Definition to seek an even greater consensus than before. There is a need to actively and radically include people from other origins, races, genders, classes, etc., and in a way that everyone feels a constituent part of the process.
  • Misuse – One of the biggest problems when it comes to open content today is the misuse and abuse of the word open, used to describe technologies and contexts that actually do not satisfy any of the criteria defined by the Open Definition. Participants mentioned the need for mechanisms for reporting misuses, or how the definition could have a more supervisory/validating role.
  • Ethics – There was a discussion about the term “for any purpose” which, according to the current definition, is an essential part of what makes content open. Some arguments revolved around the concepts of “responsible use” (like in Responsible AI Licences), or “do no evil”.
  • Universality – There were also debates about the universality of the concept. Some argued that there should be a single generalised definition, while others pointed out the need to make the definition always dynamic and context-related.
  • Language – Many pointed out that the Open Definition should abandon jargon, legal, economic and technical vocabularies to adopt a more accessible and easy-to-understand language, especially for those who are not familiar with the concept.

Considering the above, we at the Open Knowledge Foundation are happy to announce that:

  1. We are absorbing the feedback and organising ourselves to take the first formal step: proposing a governance model to guide discussions in the coming months.
  1. We are reactivating the official Open Definition discussion forum, where the past conversations took place. Anyone who would like to contribute is welcome to join.
  1. We are slowly revamping and editing the Open Definition website (open to contributions via GitHub) and preparing it for the upcoming discussions.
  1. You can stay informed about the next steps by subscribing to the Open Knowledge Newsletter, and following the hashtag #OpenDefinition and @OKFN on Twitter, Mastodon, LinkedIn and YouTube.

We’d like to thank the Mozilla Foundation’s partnership through MozFest for giving us shelter and visibility and also acknowledge the important contributions of all participants. 

Thank you everyone and stay tuned for the next steps!